Friday, June 17, 2005
CCHS teacher Chuck Brown moves on
It is not an easy task to explain the phenomenon of Chuck Brown, the beloved music and drama teacher who says goodbye to Concord-Carlisle High School this year to take on an administrative position in Natick next fall. One can start by pointing out that there was barely a dry eye in the auditorium last month (especially among the students themselves) when he directed his last chorus concert, and that the standing ovation in his honor lasted nearly three solid minutes. One can also mention the legendary passion he poured into his work, the pep talks before every performance, during which he insisted his students know "you are part of something amazing," and the way he teases, cajoles and champions kids into testing their limits and learning to soar. But perhaps the best way to understand Chuck Brown's impact on students at CCHS is simply to ask his students about him. You may have to wait for a few moments, however. Some still can't speak of him without getting choked up.
"What he thinks is just doing his job is instilling new confidence and a new belief in what we can do," says former student Jen Morse through tears. Jen, a 2003 graduate of CCHS, now attends Harvard University, where she continues to be active in music. "I remember him telling us about what we could do, what we had inside of us[after a show was over], we felt nothing less than spectacular." Even two years later, "what I know about presentation, performance and expression, so much of it comes from him," she says.
"I'll really miss his spirit. He gave us a great work ethic, a sense of fun, and really created an amazing sense of community," says Dylan Levers, a junior from Concord. "I'm disappointed that I won't have him for my senior year and that final push, but I wish him well and know they'll find a good replacement."
Parents also reacted to Brown's leaving with emotion. "This is such a loss to the community. He's such a leader, a coach and a friend," says Donna Vienneau, whose daughter Olivia just graduated from CCHS. "I'm so grateful for what he has done for Olivia. He really stretched her, and the growth was amazing."
Karen Morse (Jen's mother), is the Carlisle parent who organized CC-POPS (Concord-Carlisle Patrons of Performing Students) with Brown in 1999, to support and facilitate all performing arts activities at the school. Brown's time at CCHS instilled success Morse says, "because he's passionate about what music can do in the lives of students, and about building a community of excellence."
When he arrived at CCHS, Brown rescued a struggling drama and vocal music program that "needed a strong and consistent presence," Morse says, and he worked his magic. He took a chorus of approximately 75 students and built it up to its current number of about 230 kids. He expected excellence in the school's dramatic performances, and as a result audiences were routinely blown away by such musicals as Damn Yankees, Oklahoma, Anything Goes, Ragtime, Fiddler on the Roof and West Side Story, as well as a wealth of straight plays like A Midsummer Night's Dream, The Crucible and Steel Magnolias. He led the chorus to first-place rankings at national competitions, as well as gold medals at the Massachusetts Instrumental and Chorus Conductors Association (MICCA) Choral Festival. He has taken the chorus on numerous trips, which included singing at places such as Disney World, Universal Studios, and most recently (over April break) through locations in Prague, Vienna and Salzburg.
Not surprising to those who know him, when Brown talks about his work, the words "build" and "grow" come up so often, one might mistakenly conclude he's a carpenter or a gardener. But the things he builds are inspiring school programs, and the growth refers not only to these programs, but to the students who flourish as a result. It is his desire to build and grow that ultimately led him to his new job as Fine and Performing Arts Director for the Natick Public Schools.
"I'm excited about the idea of aligning a curriculum for kids from kindergarten through twelfth grade," says Brown. "It will give me the opportunity to oversee art, music and drama, and watch through the course work as they all build on each other through elementary school, middle school and high school."
In his new job however, he will not be directing concerts or plays, and will have little contact with students, at least at first, Brown says. So what will he miss most about his job at CCHS? Brown admits he'll especially miss the "build and grow" phase of rehearsals, and watching kids flying high after successful performances. But what he'll miss even more he says, "is that kind of contact you have with kids, the teasing and joking around, bringing smiles and laughter, watching them grow up from awkward kid to well-rounded senior."
Even so, Brown says he feels certain it was time to move on and tackle new challenges. Not to mention leave behind what were often 80-hour weeks. The new job will allow Brown more time with wife Patty (who barely saw her husband during the weeks leading up to the annual school musical), and perhaps time to do performing of his own.
But although many students and parents are heartbroken to see Brown go, Morse points out that creative people like Brown need change. "He has a model in his head, and he's taking his vision to another level," she says. And although it's hard to imagine CCHS without him, Brown says he is proud that he has been able to leave the program "better than he found it", thus providing a good atmosphere for his successor.
"I spent time creating systems usable by anyone," he says. "Over time, we've built up a good choral base to draw from, a way to raise money, a parent group that's very supportive, facilities [such as the current chorus room] that weren't here before; everything the next person needs to make the program work."
When asked how he'd like to be remembered at CCHS, Brown responds, typically, with yet another pep talk. "The expressiveness of music can really effect how people think about things," he says "If we give one hundred percent, it will always be a perfect show."
© 2005 The Carlisle Mosquito